Friday. 25/3/2022

The Monocle Minute

Image: Getty Images

Opinion / Michał Potocki

Dual purpose

The initial relationship between Joe Biden and Poland’s president Andrzej Duda (pictured) was difficult to say the least. Duda’s right-wing administration was clearly counting on Donald Trump to be re-elected, mainly for ideological reasons, and Duda was among the last world leaders to congratulate Biden after his victory. There were also clashes over TVN, an American-owned Polish pro-opposition television station, which the government in Warsaw wanted to close. But after 24 February, everything changed.

In a marriage you can fight a lot. But when a drunken neighbour approaches with an axe, you must unite and forget all the arguments. That’s essentially what has happened to Polish-American relations since the first signs of a war between Russia and Ukraine appeared in the autumn of 2021. Poland has now become a frontline state, as it shares a common border with all three parties: Ukraine the victim, Russia the aggressor and Belarus, the minority partner. Poland has also become a hub for all kinds of Western support for Kyiv and more than two million Ukrainian refugees are now within its borders.

All of this is why Biden’s visit to Poland today and tomorrow, after discussing security issues with Nato allies in Brussels yesterday, has huge symbolic and practical significance. According to the official US communiqué, Biden and Duda will discuss “responding to the humanitarian and human-rights crisis that Russia’s unjustified and unprovoked war on Ukraine has created”. Some harder issues around military and political co-operation will no doubt be discussed too. Polish officials have long said that if the US and Poland both want Ukraine to succeed and the West to no longer be threatened, both parties must show the Kremlin that they stand united under the Nato flag. Whatever the past differences, it is this ironclad commitment from Biden that matters to Poland most of all.

Michał Potocki is the opinions editor of Poland’s ‘Dziennik Gazeta Prawna’ newspaper.

Image: Getty Images

Business / Russia

Stock taking

Moscow’s stock index curiously closed 4.4 per cent higher yesterday on its first day of trading since Russia invaded Ukraine. Of course, such a counterintuitive rise in stocks makes sense when you consider that its central bank has banned short-selling (betting on shares to fall) and prohibited foreign investors from getting rid of their stocks. The measures do little to mask the fact that if foreign investors could sell their assets, companies trading in Moscow would experience nosedives similar to those recently made by Russian firms listed in London and New York.

Per Hammarlund, a strategist at Swedish bank SEB, tells The Monocle Minute that there is still some value in Russian energy companies, as long as Europe continues to buy Russian oil and gas. “But given the huge economic hit that Russia will take from higher interest rates, reduced trading, reduced consumer confidence and the stigma of foreign investors staying in Russia, you will need to expect downward pressure on Russian equities for the foreseeable future,” he says.

Image: Getty Images

Diplomacy / EU & USA

Stronger together

Joe Biden arrived in Europe this week keen to show that the West is united. After yesterday’s Nato meeting (pictured) and G7 tête-à-tête, he also made history as the first US president to attend an in-person European Council summit, which continues today before he heads on to Poland. The Council has a lot to consider, not least the fact that Ukraine, Moldova and Georgia have all recently applied for EU membership. While this is unlikely to be granted for now, the bloc does need to decide how to forge closer ties between its eastern and western flanks. Energy security has also been front and centre, with Biden seeking a deal for US natural gas to replace Russia’s output. But there are disagreements about the way forward: nations such as Germany are keen to prioritise renewable sources, while eastern members are moving in the opposite direction. The EU will need to show unity and make decisions quickly – before winter returns.

Image: Expo 2025

Society / Japan

Creature feature

No event in Japan is complete without a mascot and the official character for the Osaka Expo 2025 was selected this week from nearly 2,000 design entries. The winner? A five-eyed, shape-shifting monster. The choice has caused a bit of a stir for its wacky appearance, not to mention some worry over the terrifying effects it could have on children once scaled up into a human-sized wearable outfit. Setting aside the mixed public feedback, this is a big moment for the winning designer Kohei Yamashita (pictured), a graduate of the Osaka University of Arts who makes character and graphic illustrations for children’s books. He has big shoes to fill: the 1970 Osaka Expo was a benchmark for Japanese design and the Tower of the Sun building, designed for the event by Taro Okamoto, is still standing strong. The new mascot certainly shows off Osaka’s penchant for being bold, funny and different. We’re expecting similar daring steps from the rest of the Expo in the run-up to 2025.

Image: Courtesy Art Basel

Arts / France

Down to a fine art

Art Basel has announced a name, team and selection committee for its newest edition in Paris. Debuting in October, the fair will be directed by Clément Delépine, former co-director of Paris Internationale, and named “Paris+ by Art Basel” – a departure from other global outposts such as Art Basel Miami Beach (pictured) and Art Basel Hong Kong. The name matters: Paris+ takes over the calendar slot originally occupied by homegrown fair Fiac, sparking local concern that the Swiss mega-player would eclipse the Parisian scene. But Art Basel’s decision to invest is actually a sign of confidence: France’s capital is growing in influence in the art world – and may even end up rivalling the powerful Frieze London. Marc Spiegler, Art Basel’s global director, expects that the leadership team “will deliver a strong premier edition that capitalises both on Paris’s unparalleled legacy as a cultural capital and on its position as a vibrant crossroads for today’s contemporary culture”.

Image: Shutterstock

M24 / The Foreign Desk Explainer

Russia’s terrible wartime tradition

Global outrage over Russian attacks on schools and healthcare facilities in Ukraine has mounted as residents of Mariupol remain trapped in the besieged city. But these strikes are nothing new for Moscow’s military. Andrew Mueller looks back at this terrible wartime tradition.

Monocle preview: April issue, 2022

Monocle’s April issue features our annual retail survey, a report from France ahead of its presidential elections, an interview with Fiat’s CEO on his electric ambitions and a visit to America’s oldest independent art school, plus much more. Order your copy today from The Monocle Shop.

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